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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

B.A. in Earth Sciences

Degree Programs

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences offers bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees. The bachelor of science degree is recommended for students intending to pursue a career in the Earth Sciences–either professionally or in academia.

Two bachelor of science degree tracks are offered within the department, the B.S. in Earth Sciences, and the B.S. in Earth Sciences with focus in environmental science. The B.S. in Earth Sciences provides a strong background in basic science and geology, and through appropriate choice of electives can be tailored to meet a wide range of possible interests within the Earth Sciences. The B.S. in Earth Sciences with focus in environmental science is offered jointly with the biology department, and is recommended for those students specifically intending to pursue a career in the environmental arena.

Most bachelor of science students continue on to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree, the standard entry-level professional degree in the Earth sciences, or a Ph.D. if they intend to pursue a career in academia.

The bachelor of arts degree in Earth Sciences is recommended for those students who enjoy and are intellectually intrigued by the Earth Sciences, but intend to pursue careers in other fields. The B.A. degree differs from the B.S. degree in that it requires fewer ancillary science courses and fewer electives from within the department. Along with intellectual enrichment, the B.A. degree provides a rounded science foundation and critical thinking skills that can be applied to numerous other fields. Graduates with B.A.s in Earth Sciences go on to be lawyers, teachers, business people, environmental planners, public policy makers, and politicians, as well as geologists.

Graduating with Distinction in Earth Sciences

Departmental distinction is conferred upon students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement in the Earth Sciences and who complete and defend a research thesis. Departmental distinction could complement a degree with Honors, but Honors students would not automatically receive departmental distinction.

As stipulated by the University, all students receiving departmental distinction must have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 by the end of their senior year. In addition, these students must have a minimum GPA within the Earth Sciences of 3.6, and must complete a Senior Thesis project. The same thesis project may be used both to earn departmental distinction and to fulfill the thesis requirement of university honors, but it must meet the separate requirements of each program. Students in both the B.S. and B.A. programs are eligible for a degree with distinction.

Students must complete a research-based senior thesis in conjunction with a faculty supervisor. The thesis must constitute independent, hypothesis-driven research involving investigative tools and techniques in the Earth Sciences. Students must submit the written thesis to the department and give a public seminar reporting their results. Students should register for EAR 409 (Senior Thesis in Earth Sciences) or EAR 499 (Honors Capstone Project) in the semester in which they plan to submit the thesis. All else being satisfied, distinction is conferred following a vote of approval from the Faculty of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.


As soon as you develop an interest in possibly majoring in Earth Sciences, let us provide you with an advisor. That advisor can not only help you with Arts and Sciences Core Requirements, as did your original "freshman" advisor, but can also help design a program to meet your goals as a major in our Department. If you intend to minor in Earth Sciences, your primary advisor will probably be in another department, but be sure to consult us concerning our side of your program.

We are a very "open" department, and you should feel free to seek advice from any of us at any time! However, our "official" assignment is:

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Robert Moucha, 208a Heroy Geology Laboratory,, 443-6239

Four Year Plan Templates

In an effort to help you schedule your courses in compliance with the program requirements of the various Earth Sciences degrees, we have developed the following four year plans that are meant to be a guide that can be adjusted as needed. Click on the link to see the detail:

  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Science
  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Science with a Focus in Environmental Science
  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Arts

Each semester, you will meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Academic Coordinator to review your transcripts and proposed course selections to ensure your steady progress toward your anticipated degree program. Once this advising meeting occurs, your advising hold will be lifted and you will be able to register for classes for the next semester.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

One of the advantages of being at a research university like SU is that faculty are conducting cutting-edge research and students have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to it. Because Earth Sciences is a relatively small program, our majors have a greater chance of getting involved in research projects and working one-on-one with faculty members than might students in other more heavily subscribed majors.

Getting involved in research while you are an undergraduate is a great way to see how what your are learning in class can be applied to a field of the geociences that particularly interests you. Research experience will give you a taste of what graduate school is like, and having that experience will give you a distinct advantage in applying for graduate schools. As well, if you plan to use your degree for industry, consulting, or regulatory work, showing that you have been involved in research already makes you more competitive when applying for jobs. Working closely with a faculty member also lets that person get to know you and your abilities, so they will be able to write you a detailed letter of recommendation when you apply to graduate school or for jobs. Professional ties that you establish now can last a lifetime - your faculty mentor can become a valuable resource for you now and in the future.

Several different avenues exist for Earth sciences students who want to get involved in research while they are still undergraduates at SU. Whether you want to gain some experience by contributing to a faculty-led project or formulate and conduct your own research project, we can help you to realize your goal. There are also off-campus research oriented programs in which students can participate, generally over the summers.

Participate in an Ongoing Research Project

Even if you don't yet know what your specific interests are within the Earth Sciences or you haven't taken many classes yet, you can gain valuable research experience by participating in a research project being conducted by our faculty. This kind of experience can involve any and all aspects of doing research, including preparing samples and gathering data, field work, and/or training on one of the pieces of analytical equipment housed here in the department. Such experience is always productive, as it gives you a chance to learn important skills and interact with graduate students and faculty to solve a research question. These sorts of opportunities can lead to independent research projects if you choose to become more involved. It is possible to obtain class credit or do an independent study in association with this work, and in cases where a faculty member has research funding, you can even get paid. Interested students should inquire of faculty members directly about getting involved in ongoing research projects. Students who are eligible for work student should be sure to mention this during the conversation, as this often makes working for pay more feasible.

Conduct Your Own Independent Research

Once you get into the Earth Sciences and start to learn about all the exciting questions being addressed in the field, you may decide that you'd like to get more involved in the process of doing research. In our department, you have the opportunity of working closely with a faculty member to identify a research question that interests you and to design a project by which to address it. Independent research projects could start as a class project, be an outgrowth of a faculty member's existing research program, or could simply be a good idea that you can convince a faculty member to work on with you.

Independent research projects generally lead to a written report of your work, detailing your methods, results and conclusions. Such reports can become a Senior Thesis in the Earth Sciences, and can fulfill the requirements of a capstone project for students in the Honors Program or for Graduation with Distinction in the Earth Sciences. Student doing research often present their results at regional or national meetings (e.g. Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, Central NY Association of Professional Geologists), and there is support available from the department for students attending a conference to present their work. Some projects even get published in the peer-reviewed literature with undergraduate students as co-authors or even as the lead author.

If you are interested in doing an independent research project, speak with a professor whose classes or work inspires you and see if there might be an opportunity to get involved. It is never too early to inquire about this - some students get involve das early as their freshman or sophomore years.

Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) Program through the National Science Foundation

Students can also gain experience doing research by applying to the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. NSF REU programs provide for a small group of undergraduates (usually around 10) to work closely with faculty members and other researchers on a particular project. Work might be done on a university campus, at a field station, or at remote locations in the field, and usually operate over the summer. SU Earth Sciences students have participated in REU projects in places as far away as Svalbard (glacial environments), east Africa (rift basin tectonics and evolution), and Costa Rica (watershed hydrology). Students are granted stipends and may also receive support for travel and housing. Applications are competitive and students apply directly to the host institution, not through the NSF. See the projects you can apply for at the National Science Foundation site. Deadlines are generally early in the spring semester for the following summer, if not before, so plan ahead. Depending on the project in which you are involved, you might be able to use participation in an NSF-REU to fulfill the requirement of an approved field experience for the Bachelor of Science degrees. Discuss this possibility with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Funding for Undergraduate Research

Funding is available from a variety of sources for students doing faculty-supervised research. Generally, an application for funding involves a short description of the research project and why it is interesting and important, plus a proposed budget for the work to be done. Applications are competitive. Several processional societies offer funding for student research (see link below). Students should discuss these and other possible outlets for funding with their faculty supervisor, as they generally require a letter of support from the advisor. Deadlines are typically early in the spring semester. Students can also apply for funding from the Department through the John James Prucha Field Research Fund, or from the College when suitable outlets are available.

Course Credit and Degree Options

Students may register to receive course credit for independent research work. In each case, a faculty sponsor must sign the petition agreeing to supervise the work and specify the criteria upon which you will be graded.

EAR 490 Independent Study 1-3 Credits
Independent study credits can apply to a range of focused topical work with a faculty member, including work on a research project. These credits can be applied to a short-term project completed in one semester, or they can be applied toward various stages of a project that stretches over several semesters and that may or may not culminate in a senior thesis. This is a graded course, and you and your faculty supervisor need to specify the types of work to be done and how you will be assessed for a grade.

EAR 409 Senior Thesis 3-6 credits
A senior thesis is independent, hypothesis-driven research involving investigative tools and techniques in the Earth Sciences. Students must submit a written thesis to the department and give a public seminar at the conclusion of their work. Students interested in doing a Senior Thesis in the Earth Sciences should discuss this with their faculty research supervisor as early as possible. It is important to develop a clear plan for completion of the work, with deadlines by which to have specific tasks completed and draft versions submitted to the faculty sponsor. Students should register for EAR 409 in the semester in which they plan to submit the thesis; credit in prior semesters should be for Independent Study (EAR 490). Written approval by a faculty supervisor and permission of the department are required in order to register for thesis credits. EAR 409 is open only to seniors in the B.A. and B.S. programs in Earth Sciences. Students striving to graduate with Distinction in the Earth Sciences are required to complete a senior thesis.

EAR 499 Honors Capstone Project 3-6 credits
Students in the Honors Program are required to complete a senior thesis (capstone project) in their major. Honors students should register for EAR 499 rather than EAR 409, but all of the statements above for EAR 409 apply equally to EAR 499. This is the equivalent course number for those students enrolled in Honors.